Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Strong in the Lord - August 30, 2015 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
Paul set out in his letter to the Ephesians to give the Ephesians and us, that is to give us Christians, a better understanding of God’s eternal grace and purpose in our lives and in His Church. Two weeks ago we were exhorted, by Paul, to be imitators of Christ through the Holy Spirit working in and through us. Last week we were instructed in the good order God gives, flowing out of the order of creation, to put Christ and others first in our lives. This week Paul instructs us in fighting the good fight. As Christians living in this sin filled and sin corrupted world, we are constantly doing battle. We battle with the devil, the world and even our own sinful nature. Paul begins instructing us with and giving us encouragement to be strong, as he says, “10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (v. 10)
Paul instructs us by defining our battle and our enemy. He says, “11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 11-12). Paul encourages us to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. The devil has been scheming since his own creation and rebellion against God and being cast our of heaven. The devil has been scheming since the Garden of Eden where he enticed Adam and Eve to question God and His Word, to disobey God and to bring sin and death into this world. And the devil continues with his schemes yet today. We see the devil constantly scheming in our world today as God and His Word are questioned day in and day out. We see the devil continue scheming with the temptation that we can be like God, even being our own gods and goddesses in living our lives our own way without any regard to our Lord and His will for us.
Paul further defines our battle as being not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers. As Christians, our battle is not so much a physical battle, although that might be the case from time to time, but our battle is more often than not a battle against the devil and his evil angels. Our battle is against the evil, atheistic, unbelieving leaders of the world, the false teachers and those who teach falsely concerning our Lord and His Word, including false religions, cults and sects.
Yes, our battle is against spiritual forces in heavenly places. Our greatest battle is a spiritual battle. As the world looks to and embraces other gods, which really are nothing, so it continues to work to undermined and destroy the Christian Church. And this is a great battle indeed.
How do we fight this battle? We fight this battle by being armed for the battle. Paul tells us about the armor with which our Lord arms us. We read, “13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 13-17).
The first line of defense in our armor is the belt of truth. A belt is that thing that wraps around our body, usually around our waist and holds up other parts of what we are wearing, in particular, our pants. Mainly, though, the belt surrounds us. Paul speaks of this as being the belt of truth. One of the first things that is attacked in the Christian faith is truth. Truth is questioned. God’s Word, as truth, is questioned. As the serpent asked Eve, so the devil continually questions today, “Did God really say?” “Did God really mean?” We live in a world where, for too many, truth is relative. What is true for you may not be true for me and what is true for me may not be what is true for you. When we fasten the belt of truth around us, we are surrounding ourselves with truth, with Jesus who alone is truth. Apart from Jesus, there is and can be no truth. Jesus is the truth, as He is the way and the life. Thus, we begin by surrounding ourselves with Jesus and we do this by surrounding ourselves, immersing ourselves in His Word. To put this into practical terms, I always ask, “Are human beings, even smart human beings ever wrong?” And the answer is of course, “Yes.” Is God ever wrong? And the answer is of course, “No.” So when there is a difference between what fallible humans say and what God says, I am going to believe God all the time and figure that humans have gotten it wrong and need to go back and rethink it.
Next, the breastplate of righteousness is put on us. We are clothed with righteousness, that is we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness and this is done through the waters of Holy Baptism. At our baptism our Lord puts His name on us, He puts faith in our hearts, He writes our names in the book of life, He clothes us with His robes of righteousness. As we remember that we get it right when we point to Jesus, then we also understand that we get Holy Baptism correct when we point to Jesus. Holy Baptism is not something we do. Indeed, we cannot baptize ourselves. Just as a drowning person cannot save himself, or he would not be drowning, so we cannot save ourselves or we would not need saving. Holy Baptism is what God does and according to His Word, what God does in Holy Baptism is that He uses the simple ordinary earthly means of water connected with His Word to give us the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness and life, as He reminds us in first Peter, “Baptism now saves you (1 Pet. 3:21).”
Being surrounded with the belt of truth, immersed in the Word of God, being clothed in Christ’s robes of righteousness through the waters of Holy Baptism, we then have put on us the shoes which make us ready to share the gospel of peace. Here we are reminded that true peace is that peace which comes only from forgiveness of sins, for without forgiveness there is no true peace. And we are also reminded that this is indeed how our Lord works with us, namely through means. As we are immersed in the Word, as we are washed and robed through Holy Baptism, we understand that through these means our Lord has His way with us. And here, even through confession and absolution we are given forgiveness and peace.
Having our bodies covered, we move to gain protection through the use of the shield of faith. Here we understand that faith is an instrument and faith is a gift, given through means, the Word and the Sacrament and yet, faith in and of itself does nothing, again, it is an instrument. In order for faith to be saving faith it must have an object and the object of saving faith is Jesus Christ alone. Thus, as a shield absorbs the impact and pain the enemy attempts to inflict, so Jesus has taken care of the pain, the price, the suffering, even the eternal spiritual death which our sins cost us.
The last defensive piece of armor that is put on us is the helmet of salvation. The helmet protects our head as the breastplate protects our heart. The head and the heart are two important and vital organs. With the heart we believe and with the head we know. Both knowing and believing are important for us as Christians. And so, the helmet, along with the rest of the armor work to protect us from losing faith in Jesus.
Finally, Paul tells us that we are allowed one offensive weapon. The only offensive weapon he allows is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And what a weapon the Word of God is. If only Adam and Eve had used it in the Garden. We see how it is used and how effective it is as when Jesus was tempted by Satan. He wielded the sword of the Word of God and Satan had to leave, for a more opportune time. When temptations arise, we too, are to wield the sword of the Word of God.
Paul has warned us of the battle. He has equipped us with armor and now he gives us our supply line in the battle. We pick up at verse eighteen, “18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (v. 18-20). In a battle, if the army runs outs of ammunition or equipment or even food too quickly, the battle could easily turn to the favor of the enemy. Thus, a supply of reinforcements, a supply of ammunition and equipment continues to be necessary. Our Lord supplies us for battle through the means of grace, the Word and Sacrament. It is as I continually tell you, as we make regular and diligent use of the means of grace that our Lord has His way with us, supplying us with all that we need and even more than we need in order to be ready and to fight and win against the enemy, the devil, the world and our own sinful nature.
Our Lord constantly supplies us with aid through His means of grace. We also receive help from others in particular through prayer and through the Holy Spirit answering our prayer. What a powerful tool we have in prayer. Our Lord promises to hear and answer our prayer and certainly He does, thus we see the need to constantly be in prayer as well.
Our Lord speaks to us through His Word and in our prayers we are speaking with our Lord.. Thus, we are in conversation with our Lord. And the great thing about our prayers is that they can be prayed anytime, anywhere, for perseverance and for boldness. We are to pray for ourselves and others and we are to know that others are praying for us. And God answers our prayers and their prayers.
What Does this Mean? God never promised that life in this world would be easy. And, actually, after God created the world and put Adam and Eve in the Garden He had created for them, He gave them work to do. Work is not a result of the fall into sin. The result of the fall into sin is that now we are constantly at battle in this world. We are in a war. We are constantly doing battle against the unholy three of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.
Even though we continue to be at war and continue to be doing battle, the fact of the matter is that Jesus has already won the victory. Satan has been defeated and he knows he has been defeated, yet he constantly works in our world to undermine our Lord and His authority. The devil is fighting for us, not because he loves us and desires that we should be on his side, but because he hates us and he hates anything that is from God or of God. But again, Christ has won. Through the cross and death, Jesus defeated sin, death and the power of the devil. The victory is His.
And yet, while we remain in this world we will continue to fight the good fight. We will fight against temptation and sin. We will fight against the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. Yet, we will not fight alone. We will fight with Christ Jesus on our side. And as Paul tells us this morning, we will fight as we are armed with the means of grace.
And so, this morning, we have Paul’s instruction to us in fighting the good fight. We do live in a sin filled and sin corrupted world. Thus, we must constantly do battle. We battle against the devil, the world and even our own sinful nature. Paul instructs us and encourages us to be strong because we are well armed and well equipped through our faith, faith given, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. We have the whole armor of God. We have the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. And we have this confidence, that the battle has been won and by God’s pure grace, through His gift of faith, we have eternal life. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.